It’s not the hospital that’s at the centre of health, it’s the patient. Kevin Ryan, senior development adviser for life sciences at Enterprise Ireland, explains why connected health has the power to bring that fact to life.
Be they wireless, digital, electronic or mobile, the use of technology-driven devices, services and interventions are improving patient outcomes and driving healthcare efficiencies.
The result is a shift from the current reactive, episodic model of healthcare, typically centered around the hospital, to a proactive one that puts the patient, rather than their location, at the heart of effective care delivery.
The quickly emerging field of connected health empowers patients, carers and clinicians alike, facilitating personalised healthcare plans and cost-effective precision medicine. The need for solutions is clear, as health systems struggle to cope with a rise in chronic diseases and ageing populations.
Connecting all stakeholders in a patient’s journey
That is why solutions that connect all stakeholders in a patient’s care journey, through the timely sharing of accurate and relevant information, is driving some of the most innovative companies supported by Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency.
Ireland’s connected health sector is in rude good health, supported by a number of factors. These include the maturing of Ireland’s broadband network, combined with a roll-out of 4G/Fibre-to the-Home that supports innovation and the adoption of more connected health devices.
Irish connected health start-ups are also benefiting from a desire among local healthcare providers to adopt and embrace new technology, providing an invaluable seedbed.
Regulatory and data protection barriers have been addressed by EU and national laws, including GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations).
Key decision makers are adopting and implementing change. Ireland’s national Health Service Executive (HSE) is working closely with industry to embrace and implement connected health devices in situations in which clear operational or financial benefits accrue.
Connected health ecosystem
As a result, Ireland’s connected health ecosystem is proving increasingly fruitful, with state agencies, academic research institutions and health bodies working closer with industry than ever before.
Ireland has long punched above its weight as an innovator, ranking 10th in the Global Innovation Index. The country has a strong track record in the development of medtech products, with a particularly strong cohort of e-health start-ups having emerged in recent years.
It’s a vibrant sector. The Irish-based European Connected Health Alliance actively promotes and supports the connected health agenda through its presence in more than 40 countries. ECH Alliance events are the perfect forum for investors, partners and start-ups to engage with leading experts from government, education, multinationals and the indigenous sectors.
Enterprise Ireland plays a pivotal role in all of this activity by supporting initiatives such as the Innovation Partnership Programme.
Enterprise Ireland-supported Technology Transfer Offices, which are located in university and college research institutes throughout Ireland, provide an invaluable resource in relation to research, development and innovation. One of my challenges for the future will be looking for greater collaboration between companies supported by Enterprise Ireland and top researchers in Irish universities.
Open exchange of ideas between researchers and industry
Perhaps more than anything, what defines the Irish connected health space is the open exchange of ideas it enjoys between academia, small and medium-sized businesses and multinationals. It is this highly collaborative model, combined with cutting-edge research and consultancy services, that is a key resource for indigenous Irish companies.
For example, any connected health start-up that wants to get their product adopted needs reference sites in an acute or community-based setting. That means a health service must engage with them – a traditional stumbling block internationally.
Ireland’s Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, along with the Department of Health, have come together with Enterprise Ireland and the HSE to establish Health Innovation Hub Ireland (HIHI). HIHI offers companies opportunities for pilot and clinical validation studies and gives the health service access to innovative products, services and devices. HIHI is built on the recognition that collaboration with companies can benefit patient care, patient pathways and outcomes.
HIHI’s most recent call centred on “enabling positive aging”, seeking out devices and technology that can support people to live at home longer, promoting independence and helping prevent admission into acute care.
From a skills perspective, in addressing any shortfall in this emerging sector, the Irish Medtech Association, a key industry stakeholder in the Irish ecosystem, has reinvented their offering. It has a Connected Health Skillnet that offers learning, development and networking opportunities and is run in partnership with Biopharmachem Ireland and Technology Ireland.
Investor interest in such technologies is growing fast, as the recent €40 million investment in Dublin-based Fire1, a developer of novel remote monitory devices, displayed.
Ireland’s exciting connected health start-ups
At Enterprise Ireland, we see many such exciting companies come through our doors, including TickerFit, a cloud-based platform for people living with chronic conditions. Bluedrop Medical is developing a device that has the potential to revolutionise diabetes care, using artificial intelligence and its own proprietary algorithms. Jinga Life has developed a cloud-based platform to manage the electronic healthcare records of entire families. We are also working with HealthBeacon, a medication adherence technology company, that has digitally connected and programmed a smart sharps bin with the patient’s personal medication schedule.
Enterprise Ireland’s role is to identify and support sectors that can demonstrate significant value to business and consumers globally and seek out indigenous Irish companies that have the potential to drive them.
Given that Ireland is already a world-class hub for both technology and medical devices, it’s no surprise that the country is emerging as a hub for connected health too.
Enterprise Ireland is helping to realise this potential in a number of ways, including equity investment – we are Europe’s largest source of seed funding and the 3rd biggest source globally, so we have skin in the game.
Companies we back get access to research and innovation programmes, including our Technology Gateway Programme and to world-class technology centres located nationwide. We offer grant supports, expert advice and high-level market research assistance, helping them to scale and solve the challenges of international partners. And we provide them with the services of our global network of 33 overseas offices to help them to forge partnerships with stakeholders around the world.
The prescription is clear: if you’re looking for a connected health innovator to partner with, the healthiest connections you’ll find are supported by Enterprise Ireland.